COLUMBUS, Ohio – How many goals Andrés Mendoza scored weren’t as important as how he played and acted, and as a result, the Peruvian Designated Player is no longer with the Crew.
Mendoza, who finished near the top of MLS with 13 goals in 2011, as well as MLS all-time goal leader Jeff Cunningham were among those players who didn’t have their options picked up by the Crew on Tuesday.
The others are goalkeeper Alex Riggs and midfielders Kevin Burns, Santiago Prim, Dejan Rusmir and Ben Sippola. Prim and Rusmir were previously waived, while the club has made qualifying offers to out-of-contract midfielders Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo.
However, the big name leaving Columbus is Mendoza — he who alienated fans, teammates and coaches with a regularly lackadaisical attitude and general indifference in his first full season after being signed in September 2010.
Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers had several conversations with coach Robert Warzycha on the pros and cons of releasing the team’s leading scorer.
“Robert and I have talked quite a bit about the type of team we want to be and the style of play we want to see,” McCullers said. “At the end of the day, we want to stay true to who we are as a team, and a different type of forward will better serve the team in staying true to that form.
“Andrés did his job, obviously,” he added. “He scored 13 goals. He was fourth in the league, but when we’re talking about an overall stay of play, we’re looking for something different.”
Warzycha was blunt in saying that character matters. Mendoza irked everyone in the June 8 match against Real Salt Lake when he took a penalty that was intended for Cunningham so he could potentially tie the MLS all-time goal mark of 133 held by Jaime Moreno.
After the goal, Mendoza gestured disdain to the booing fans and his disapproving coaches.
“We’re looking for a player that will be respected by the fans, by the teammates, the coaches and the whole organization, who will work much harder so everybody can see that,” Warzycha said.
Said McCullers, “It’s fair to say [Mendoza] wasn’t a fit in a couple of different ways for this club.”
Replacing Mendoza’s goal-scoring ability won’t be easy, and the Crew may opt to acquire several forwards to take his spot as well as spell injury-prone striker Emilio Rentería.
Also, Warzycha expects second-year players Tommy Heinemann, Aaron Horton and Justin Meram to compete for minutes.
“We are looking for a Designated Player for the club,” McCullers said. “I don’t know necessarily if it will be a forward, it could be a central midfielder because we are still looking to impact that area. The result is we’ve now got resources cleared and the flexibility to find another Designated Player.”
Warzycha said his top priority would be in the center of the park.
“We did not get too many goals from the midfield,” he said. “We can’t rely only on one guy. We have to have more players in the midfield who score goals.”
Other areas of need include depth at left and center back.
Warzycha salutes Cunningham
Warzycha praised Cunningham, who tied Moreno’s mark at Vancouver on July 6 and broke it with his 134th goal — his final one of 2011 — on Aug. 27 at Seattle Sounders FC.
“He is going to be remembered as one of the best strikers not only in Crew history but MLS history,” said Warzycha, a former teammate in Columbus. “What he accomplished is a dream for everybody in the league, but we have to move on.”